My Stepfather’s Abuse



Eddie, Mary, and her mother in 1997. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Abuse comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s mental. Other times it’s emotional, physical, or sexual. Upon occasion, it’s a combination of several.

In my case, the abuse came from my stepfather, Eddie, who was a professional baseball player, and also a raging alcoholic. He played third base, fueled by his nightly affair with the bottle.

Eddie played pro ball for several years and after he retired from baseball, he became a successful businessman. But his drinking never abated. He was a true example of a functioning alcoholic; hard-working by day, a monster at night.

Eddie and my mother married in 1976 when I was 23. I was just coming to terms with my sexual preference for women, and his presence made me uneasy. In the back of my mind, I thought my mother might eventually marry again, but I was not excited about this union. Why did she pick him?

Eddie was the antithesis of my mother. He was extremely opinionated, and had he been living now, would have been Trump’s biggest supporter. He subscribed to something called The Spotlight, a very conservative publication devoted to like-minded people like himself. I suspect they wore white sheets when no one was looking.

I don’t know if my mom told Eddie that I was gay before she married him. Probably not. He might’ve decided against marrying her if he knew that she had a couple of queer daughters along with a few brothers, who were substance abusers. At any rate, the truth regarding our family was bound to come out. And when it did, it wasn’t pretty.

My first run-in with Eddie was at Thanksgiving in 1978. I had come to our family gathering with my girlfriend at the time, having been granted permission by my mother who thought my inclusion would be ok.

Eddie had guzzled his sixth beer when he turned around to face me. I knew he was revving up for a fight, and I was the closest target.

“I don’t like your kind,” he sneered at me, eyeing both my girlfriend and me. “Get out of here,” he demanded, ushering us toward the front door.

I looked at my mother for support, but she just stood there petrified, I assume not wanting to cause a scene. Eddie was a bigoted bully, and she didn’t want to get in the middle and be the recipient of his wrath.

Her embarrassment of me being a lesbian was painful enough, but to have his blatant homophobia thrown at me during our family gathering was devastating.

I was used to homophobia when my girlfriend and I tried to rent apartments or check into hotels. On numerous occasions, apartments “weren’t available” or hotels “were full.” I was used to the hateful eyes of strangers when they suspected I was gay. Having to hide my sexual preference by having an arsenal of boyfriends was exhausting.

And now I had to deal with this type of hate from my stepfather? What was my future going to be like with him?

My partner and I went home. I was crushed that my mom didn’t defend me. I was her daughter. He was a newcomer. When she picked him over me, I was devastated.

A few days later my mom called me asking me to write a letter of apology to Eddie for my behavior.

“But I didn’t do anything!” I protested.

“Believe me, it’s easier this way,” she added.

Reluctantly, I wrote the letter, not knowing that this would be the first of many incidents over the years, where Eddie’s drinking turned him into an animal, and others were forced to concede regardless of whether they were right or wrong.

At family functions, my mother would sit there in silence when he ranted against a multitude of minorities. On holidays, he’d often turn on my brothers, whom he deemed “losers.” Oddly enough, one of them was also an alcoholic just like Eddie.

It hurt me that my mother never came to my defense. It was just too dangerous for her to stand up to him because confronting him would make her his next target. And who knows what he might do to her if that happened.

I stumbled through a number of relationships after that time. But for six years, I wondered if Eddie was going to embarrass me in front of another girlfriend.

I finally met my future wife in 1992. Erika and Eddie seem to get along pretty well because her business acumen was similar to his. My mother loved her. Often we would all play golf in the afternoons, and for the most part, we all got along pretty well.

But at one point in time, Eddie made a comment that hurt me deeply.

“You know, you could’ve married a doctor,” he remarked. I’m sure he believed that a male doctor would ensure me social and financial success. What an insult, as if my life in its present form was somehow deficient.

He was sober at the time, so I knew his disdain for my lifestyle was still very strong.

Erika laughed when I later told her the story, but I knew on some level it was insulting to her, despite her success as a financial advisor.

In 1999, my mother got lung cancer, and eventually died in 2000. Eddie and I became fairly close during that time while she rallied between chemo, radiation, and an illness that turned her into a stick. Erika and I hoped that we would foster a special bond with Eddie after dealing with my mom’s illness for six months. We thought, perhaps, we’d eventually share fond memories of her, and enjoy occasional visits with one another once she was gone.

But soon after the funeral, he turned on me again, making unusual financial demands against my mother’s estate and insinuating that I was a lousy daughter. I think he hated the fact that I was alive and she was dead.

While they were married, he tolerated my relationship with Erika, but once she was gone, there is no reason for him to be nice anymore. His true nature surfaced, and he was meaner than an angry viper.

He was also a rabid letter writer, a hobby that escalated after my mom died. But instead of directing his letters to people outside of our home, they were directed at me and my family. I would cringe seeing the stationary with his handwriting. I knew that a slew of insults was waiting for me.

He called me an asshole and a bad daughter. Erika was a lousy stockbroker. My brothers were useless, and my two sisters were inept. I’m sure those beers fueled his wrath while he wrote.

Gone were my hopes of bonding with him after my mother died. He would have none of it.
He then turned his family against me. Eventually, they all caved into his demands leaving me to deal with Eddie on my own. It was a difficult six years.

In 2005, my wife and I were in the Palm Springs area and decided to try and visit Eddie one more time. We found out he was living in the assisted living facility next door to where my parents resided. Reluctantly, we entered, not knowing what to expect.

At first he was cordial, but it didn’t take too long before he started making derogatory accusations again. He didn’t have to be nice to me anymore. There was no one there to referee his behavior.

My efforts to take the high road had been futile. It didn’t matter that I was trying to make amends with a stepfather who had treated me so badly over the years. He was still a jerk.

Eddie eventually passed away in 2006, but the memories of his aberrant behavior are still fertile in my mind. You cannot reason with an alcoholic in denial, especially one who is mean. Thankfully I have a strong sense of self now, but the pain that I endured during those years will never completely evaporate.


Mary McGrath is a freelance writer residing with her wife, Erika Komarck, in Naples, Florida. After an extensive career in the advertising business, she decided to redirect her efforts into her creative passions. Some of her credits include Newsweek, The Wall, Street Journal, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Beyond writing, she is a published photographer, facilitates improv classes, and composes music. For more information about Mary and her work, visit her website here.

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